When Art Alexakis’s Everclear formed in 1991 in Portland, Oregon, just three hours from Seattle, the alt-rock band was inevitably lumped in with the grunge scene. And sure, there were superficial similarities, from Alexakis’s gaunt demeanor and drug stories to the fashion, but there was very little grunge in Everclear's sound.
Rather, Alexakis seemed to be taking his cues from classic songwriters like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne. If 1993’s World of Noise debut album was a hint of things to come, ’95’s brilliant Sparkle & Fade was the full realization of a melodic alt-rock idea. Alexakis has the gift of taking whatever is going on in his life, no matter how dark, and turning it into a gloriously descriptive yet infectiously catchy pop-rock song. Because he injects hope and melody, Alexakis’s most difficult experiences can be hummed and foot-tapped, and that’s all by design.
“I’ve been through a lot of stuff,” Alexakis says. “My health this last year has been dicey in different ways, although it’s good now. Everybody goes through stuff. I’m deep into middle age. There are different types of drama, and there are different types of happiness and sunshine. You’ve just got to be able to see them and figure them out — be able to communicate them and describe them. That’s what a writer does. That’s what a storyteller does.”
Despite the fact that Alexakis has also toured as a solo artist and he’s planning to record his first solo album soon, make no mistake: Everclear is very much the singer’s baby. Alexakis writes the songs, and he’s the sole remaining original member.
“It’s just about me, man,” he says. “Those guys are playing my songs. Do they add something different? Absolutely. After [classic-lineup members Craig Montoya and Greg Eklund] left the band, I took some time off and figured out what I wanted to do. I started playing with different people. When I played with the current guys, it felt right, and it felt like Everclear. A different version of Everclear, but it sounded like Everclear. So that’s why I kept calling it Everclear.”
Everclear’s most recent album, Black Is the New Black, came out two years ago, and while Alexakis doesn’t have any new band material planned, he is working on that aforementioned solo debut.
“It’s just gonna be me playing all the instruments — mostly acoustic guitar and vocals, but some other instruments too,” he says. “I’m just a songwriter; I write songs. It’s not gonna be a big rock record. I want to focus on the songs and songwriting. I just want to be creative and see what happens instead of making rules going into it.”
If Alexakis is looking for fuel for his songwriting fire right now, he need only look around. The day before this interview, the shooting had taken place at the San Bernardino school, and Alexakis says that it’s impossible not to be influenced, and indeed politicized, by events like that.
“The thing that inspires me is life and my perspective on it,” he says. “How things are now and how they used to be, the difference between them and how they will be in the future. Just all sorts of things, like I’ve always done — slice-of-life stories. Right now, I’m just writing songs that connect with me, because that’s what I always do. I can’t really write songs about getting a tattoo and getting in a truck. I tried to do that with country people, but it’s just not me. I’ve got to give a damn about what I’m writing about.”
From 1994 through to the 2003 album Slow Motion Daydream, Everclear was signed to Capitol Records. Following the departure of Montoya and Eklund, the band has put out three albums on three different indie labels. Still, Alexakis says, in this day and age and with this modern music industry, he doesn’t want to be signed to a major.
“You want it small enough that you know everybody in every department,” he says. “When I was at Capitol, I knew everybody at the label that was working my record. It felt like an indie label, but they had the muscle of a major. That’s what you want. You want gas in the tank and a big motor to push it. These days, it’s all social media. Much of it is smart kids who know how to look at a computer and get it out there. It’s not like you’re really selling that many practical records anymore. Everything’s download or stream. It’s a different world, and it changes every year, if not sooner.”
On May 20, Everclear plays the Summit Music Hall, a show in which the band will be performing the beloved So Much for the Afterglow album in its entirety, to celebrate its twentieth anniversary. Alexakis, who enjoys playing Denver despite the inevitable breathing issues, says that, as well as that whole album, there will be some surprises in the set.
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“Actually, some obscure songs,” he says. “Songs off World of Noise. I don’t want to say which one, but, yeah, we’re gonna go deep on that one. A song we’ve never played before. We did the same thing with Sparkle & Fade. The formula seemed to work pretty well. We mix up the tracks rather than do the album straight through.”
“I just talk about being an artist, going through the labels and management,” he says. “Talking about all the good things I did and the right things to do, and also all the mistakes I made, and learning from that. That’s what you’re paying for if you’re smart.”